Duvet Days... An Urban Myth
Managing short-term sickness absence is tricky and needs to be handled with care, consideration and tact. However, employers are absolutely entitled to raise factual concerns with employees about their poor attendance if the frequency and/or pattern of absences is affecting the employer’s business or its employees.
Traditionally, employees can self-certify their sickness absence for the first seven days but must provide a doctor’s note thereafter to ensure the absence is authorised and their entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay is preserved. Statutory Sick Pay is payable from the fourth day’s absence: the first three days being unpaid. There is no absolute right for employees to paid time off work to attend medical appointments which should be arranged (wherever possible) to suit the needs of the business (i.e. at the beginning or end of the day).
Problems arise when employees are found to be taking a high number of short term (self-certified) absences from work and/or a pattern has arisen as to when those absences fall. More often than not, the employer will not be able to dispute that the employee is genuinely unwell (firm evidence should be obtained before such allegations are made) and so disciplinary action is inappropriate. The trick for employers therefore is to make the employee aware that their attendance is being monitored and/or that a pattern has been identified and that an improvement is required.
This should be done by way of an informal meeting with the employee. Show them the dates they have been absent (together with the reasons they have given) over the last 6 - 12 months. Highlight how high their absence is as compared to the business’ average. Explain how you have noticed (for example) how they are usually absent on a Monday or after a home match. Take time to check if there are any problems that the employee wishes to share with you that might explain their high absence. Explain the knock on effect that their absence has to the business and reinforce that turning up to work is a key part of the employment relationship, together with reliability. If appropriate, agree attendance targets for the next quarter (for example - no more than three days self-certified absence in the next three months) and diarise a review meeting.
Always follow this informal meeting up in writing with a summary of what was discussed and agreed. This letter should highlight that an improvement is required otherwise more formal action may be necessary.
Ultimately written warnings can be given for poor attendance but as being ill is not a disciplinary matter, the process must be handled with care and importantly reasonably. Businesses should feel empowered to deal with such situations proactively and in a way that promotes a positive work place and conscientious work ethic.